What Awaits The Ex-Prisoners Recruited By Wagner? For Now, Drinking Poolside
The last of the former convicts who served under the Wagner mercenary are heading home. According to private Telegram chats of the soldiers' relatives, many are currently staying in resorts and hotels along the Black Sea awaiting pardons, and behaving badly. Some may end up staying on with Wagner in Belarus.
Before launching its aborted mutiny last month, the Wagner Group mercenaries stirred controversy by recruiting Russian convicts to serve on the frontline of the war in Ukraine. Thousands of often dangerous criminals signed up for at least a year on the front in exchange for their freedom, with a pardon from their jail sentences after their service.
But this infamous practice appears to have ended recently, with Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin now having to decide what to do with all former prisoners who served as mercenaries.
“Project K is closed,” a Wagner representative wrote in a Telegram chat, referring to the name of the convict-recruiting program
Many of the former convicts are now in hotels in or near the coastal town of Anapa on the Black Sea, waiting for official pardons or their contracts to expire. Vazhnyye Istorii learned about this after identifying messages of relatives of mercenary ex-convicts and representatives of the group in their private chats.
“They took everyone to Anapa until the end of their contracts, they won’t let anyone go a day earlier,” the Wagner representative wrote.
Other reports, however, say that some may be released before the end of their contract.
"My husband called, he said that within a week, and once the pardons have come, they will all be sent home," writes a relative of one of the ex-prisoners. "Even those whose contract ends in August will still go home earlier."
It appears from onine data that 400 Wagnerites are residing in hotels near Anapa. Until they receive amnesty and payment, the former prisoners are not allowed to leave the hotels. Some mercenaries have been in the hotels for two months, another relative of a fighter told Vazhnyye Istorii.
They’re disgracing the Wagner company.
"It's the same [as being jailed], only in Anapa," she said. These are likely mercenaries who left the combat zone before the Wagner uprising in late June.
Riots and fights
The former prisoners are staying in several hotels in the village of Vityazevo. A day’s stay costs between 2,300 and 7,200 rubles ($25–$80), and some hotels have swimming pools.
In the chat rooms, the relatives complain that the men lead an out-of-control lifestyle in the hotels.
"They go drinking, walk around, pawn their medals, and drink them away. There are so many of them here. They’re disgracing the Wagner company," one local writes. "I personally saw two of them at the bus station - drunk as hell. It’s shameful!"
Reportedly, the police and the Russian National Guard have to intervene regularly when the soldier-convicts turn violent among themselves or with locals.
Still from a Wagner PMC recruitment video featuring owner Yevgeny Prigozhin
Wagner in Belarus
According to one of the relatives, all the former prisoners will be sent home, where they must take up to 45 days without work, after which they may choose to extend their contracts with the Wagner group and go to Belarus or Africa.
Following Wagner's late June rebellion, its troops are stationed in training camps in Belarus, where they will reportedly train Belarusian reservists. On Wednesday, telegram channels associated with the Wagner group published a video apparently showing group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin and its founder Dmitry “Wagner” Utkin, who gave the group its callsign, welcoming the Wagnerites in Belarus.
Welcome to hell.
This would be Prigozhin’s first public appearance since the end of the rebellion in late June and the first appearance of Utkin in memory. The video was filmed at dusk and does not show the speakers very clearly, but their voices can be heard.
“Maybe we’ll return to the Special Military Operation [in Ukraine] at a time where we won’t be forced to disgrace ourselves,” Prigozhin said. Utkin added that Wagner will carry out “a big job [...] very soon”.
“Welcome to hell,” he added in English.
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